Stow, Lincolnshire – St Mary the Virgin

We are driving through Lincolnshire, and I saw the sign to Stow. I decided to divert via the stunning Saxon church – the church of St Mary. Last time I came here was on preaching experience while at Theological College – I seem to recall comments about waving my arms round too much. I cannot find a website for this church, and have failed to find any sites about church tourism in Lincolnshire. The Diocesean website does not seem to suggest that churches are worth visiting. I am prepared to be proved wrong on this quick google – but surely this is huge tourism potential being missed? St Mary, Stow in Lindsey, is at grid reference SK882820.

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Stow, which is not a large village now, may have been larger in the past – but still not large enough for a church this size. However it was the centre of a large block of estates belonging to the Saxon bishops of Dorchester on Thames and Bishop Aelfnoth built a minster church here in 975. I like the idea that it is the Mother Church of Lincoln Cathedral. It is possible that there was a church here before then – St Etheldreda rested at Stow when travelling from Northumberland to East Anglia – we follow in her footsteps. Bishop Aelfnoth’s work can be seen in the lower parts of the Transept and the Crossing. Then there was a fire, and the church was rebuilt by Bishop Eadnoth II (1034-50). It was enriched by Leofric, Earl of Mercia and his wife Lady Godiva – a charter of 1054 says they brought priests to sing the services in the way they were sung in St Paul’s Cathedral. In 1067 Remigius became the first Norman bishop of Dorchester, and moved his see to Lincoln in 1073. The Nave we see today is the one he built.

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In the second half of the C12 the Saxon chancel was replaced by a Norman one. It could be that there was a plan to make Stow into a bigger, more important centre – but that plan failed. In the C15 a new tower was built to replace the Saxon one. By mid C19 the condition of the church was deplorable. The church was restored by John Loughborough Pearson, who was later to design Truro Cathedral. Now in the C21 the parish profile for the new Vicar raises the question as to how a building this huge is maintained – I am not planning to apply for the challenge.

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The south door is magnificent – as is the west.

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Lovely figures on the top of the tower as well.

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The font is C13 with some interesting figures.

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The oak head of Christ above the vestry door was carved in 1980 by Andrzej Kuhn of Freiston Shore from a piece of Wash driftwood.

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But you must look up in this church – it takes your breath way. This is the Nave and the Crossing.

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In the South Transept we have a Lincolnshire Churches Trust display – a good start for a new Vicar would be to clear everything out and put a new set of unified displays in. These are C15 heads on the east wall. The oak figures are part of a rood group made for Buckfast Abbey in 1882.

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In the Chancel there is some wonderful stone work.

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We also have a brass memorial to Richard Burgh of Stow Hall (died 1616). It also commemorates his son, Sir John, “a noble and valyeant souldyer” killed while serving as Colonel-General of Charles I’s expeditionary force to the Isle of Rhe in 1627. I had to look that up – website.

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We have the earliest [but see below …] known representation of a Viking ship in England – did it sail up the Trent? Yesterday (19 November 2015) we were watching BBC 2’s Digging for Britain – website. They mentioned Jonathan’s Caves in Fife – website – as having “the only contemporary representation of a Viking ship”. You, dear Reader, now know better.

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[16 December 2015 … my friend Richard Bailey tells me that the one in Lowther church in Cumbria is older. Search for “viking ship lowther” for a picture, and read Richard’s article here. Another church to go and visit!]

The musicians are in the North transept.

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This is Thomas a Becket in the North Transept, and a Saxon arch too.

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Walking round the outside you can see a Saxon, Norman and Medieval window in the South Transept.

october b 309What a story this church has to tell.

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